You might've noticed from my Tweets that I wasn't in Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend. I returned home to New Jersey to be with my family for the holidays and got to attend some other basketball games. In fact, it was sort of like I was the Siena Saints' beat writer as I went to their weekend games against Rider and Princeton.
For me it was a chance to return to the place where I first fell in love with the sport of college basketball, Princeton University's Jadwin Gymnasium. That also happens to be where Northwestern's Bill Carmody
started his coaching career. The Northwestern connections were many. I met up with the writer of Princeton Basketball
, who also went to school in Evanston, I saw former Wildcat great Craig Moore
- though he had no idea who I was when I looked at him, and of course there was talk about Carmody in the stands.
Above is Princeton's game-tying shot by Dan Mavraides. I collected the rest of my thoughts from Siena's 73-60 victory over Rider in the MAAC conference opener and their 86-77 loss to Princeton. They're after the jump.
Rider vs. Siena --
This was the first conference game of the young college basketball season and it was an exciting game. The Broncs hung tough for quite a while before Siena went on a 20-1 run to take a lead they'd never relinquish. Siena is 2-4 and after losing to Minnesota
early in the season will have to win the MAAC to get back to the NCAA Tournament. Thus this was the first of what will be many big games in conference play.
The photo above is of Rider's Alumni Gymnasium. It's a very intimate venue. It doesn't get any bigger on the sides either. There are only bleachers and everything feels very compressed. It's an intense environment to play a college basketball game in. You can hear fans shouting at each other from the opposite side of the gym. I wonder what it is like as a major conference team to come into that environment.
Ryan Rossiter showed how much talent he has during the game as he scored 18 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. The 6'9 senior center really frustrated Rider's big men. Rider though will definitely be back. Mike Ringgold - an athletic big man, Justin Robinson - who has played for Great Britain's national team, and forward Brandon Penn give the team a lot of talented scorers. The Broncs are struggling a bit with consistency right now, but they've also beat TCU and USC already this season. This is a big victory for Siena, because it'll give them a leg up in March for conference tournament seeding.
Princeton vs. Siena -- This was a game against two teams that are supposed to be at the top of their respective leagues come season's end. As it was a home game for the Tigers, it seemed like a game Sydney Johnson's squad had to have. It took a miracle, and some hot shooting by Mavraides, to get it.
Princeton still has a long way to go until Ivy League play begins, but the Tigers looked like a team that could compete. They ran more than the Pete Carril and Carmody teams that I grew up watching, but it works for Johnson. Kareem Maddox played 43 of a possible 45 minutes in the overtime contest and his athleticism really made a difference in the game. He scored 30 points, grabbed 10 boards and blocked 3 shots. Mavraides is the type of gamer you expect to find in the Ivy League, he scored 19 points on some very resourceful plays and 3-4 three-point shooting.
Johnson still has a work in progress in his point guard, Douglas Davis. Davis tends to play a little out of control at times, but it was obvious from some of his passes that he has good vision. I just wished he would use that vision even more often. Still, it's obvious that Johnson trusts him as he played 44 minutes, and committed just 3 turnovers. I was also impressed by 6'6 guard T.J. Bray. He's got excellent athleticism and just needs to learn to harness it a bit better. He's a freshman, so my bet is that it will come in time with Johnson there to teach him.
For Siena, Rossiter was bothered on the offensive end by Brendan Connolly and some consistent double teams by the Tigers. He shot 5-12 from the floor and scored 14 points. But even while struggling with his shot and some foul trouble, Rossiter managed to grab 21 rebounds and dish out 3 assists.
Siena has a team that can challenge people. It's not the juggernaut that they were the past two seasons when the Saints won 27 games each year, but Clarence Jackson, Rossiter and freshman Rakeem Brookings give them a solid core in this transition season. If I had one criticism of new head coach Mitch Buonaguro, it would be that he doesn't seem to trust his bench at all and that'll hurt the team under quick turnarounds.
It's going to be an interesting season for all three of these teams and I'm glad I got the chance to watch some basketball back at home.